Friday, August 29, 2014
- by W. Michael Lawson
Due to the ebb and flow and nature of sports during the spring and summer, this column has had a tendency to wade in the waters of verbosity…to color in lines of sport with hues of human interest…to try and show the corporal face and heart of sport. It might even be thematic, at times. You see, in the South, spring and summer are seasons of more casual things…quieter sports…like baseball, golf, and tennis. It’s an easy and more relaxed cheering that we do. We are more active in our doing, and less vocal with our yells. This changes dramatically, however, with the arrival of autumn and the conjoining college football season, and so must this column with it. There is no more room for rumination of the spirit of things. It’s time for results…stats…winners and losers. Fall in the south is when temperatures chill and passions boil. This quasi secular religion we call football becomes the fulcrum for everything we do. Hiking? Maybe…what time is the game? Movie? Hmm…what time is the game? Party? Will they have the game on? Mall? Sure…they have to have a television somewhere. Weddings? Uh… no. (Except for you MB).
There are many reasons why football is so loved and followed in this area. For me though, the main catalyst for this Seasonal Affective Delusion, if you will, is that it’s when cousins go to war. Meaning, most see the south as some sort of monolith… a vast expanse of sameness…localness…countryness. But we, as southerners, know that this isn’t true. Some states are closer to others in character and composition, but they are all different, and each state has a school. Some states have multiple schools…bringing heated rivalries into the living room and to the kitchen table. Who you choose as your favorite college football team says something about you...and maybe even your family. It is an expression of regional representation…state pride…family pride…and tradition. It is simply a part of our shared cultural fabric…and the tapestry that will tell the story of the 2014 NCAA College Football season is now before us.
2014 will be a very unique year for college football…and for many different reasons: Inaugural year of the playoff system…continued conference realignment…new NCAA rules giving conferences more power and autonomy…all will have an effect that we can only predict…and still elicit questions. More specifically though, each team, and even more specifically, each team in the SEC, has questions going into this new season. Everyone is dreaming of winning and stardom…of righting old wrongs…ending losing streaks and starting new ones for their foes…but what will they have to overcome to do so? Here is my take on one major question facing each team in the SEC West going into this season…with a brief comment about the games this week…week 1 of this young football season :
1. Alabama- Is there a “Lane Kiffin” curse? Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Vols, Southern Cal…all hired Lane Kiffin, and all have absolutely stunk since. By all accounts, Kiffin has ruined everything he touches. Now, Bama fans will say that he’s a good Coordinator and not a good Head Coach. Well, maybe. But I’m not so sure that there isn’t bad football karma that the football gods have put on Kiffin. Most point to the QB question as the main issue, if there is one with Bama, but for me it’s Kiffin. He’s a loser, and Saban is a winner. Which gives? *Alabama vs. W. Virginia, Saturday. Bama walks the dog…40-14.
2. Auburn- Can they replicate a dream season without lady luck? Auburn is going to be as good as they were last year. Maybe, better. Maybe the best in the country. If you have them on your schedule, better bring 100% for 4 quarters. But that was true last year, and they needed two of the craziest miracles ever witnessed to even get to the SEC Championship game. The Tigers from “The Plains” are a fantastic team, but destiny is a fickle date. *Auburn vs. Arkansas, Saturday. Auburn wins handily, 45-28.
3. LSU- Will athleticism trump inexperience and youth? LSU seems to be overlooked coming into this year, mainly because they are just so young at key and numerous positions. Youth at offensive skill positions, i.e. Leonard Fournette, can do well immediately, but youth on defense can be a problem. I tend to give Coach Chavis the benefit of the doubt, but an 8-4 season, which is possible, wouldn’t go over well in Baton Rouge. *LSU vs. Wisconsin, Saturday. LSU gets a true test against the perennially overrated Badgers, but wins in the second half, 35-17.
4. Texas A&M. Will athleticism trump inexperience and youth? No…that isn’t a typo. TAMU lost 3 starters to the first round of the NFL draft last year, and that has to affect production. But Coach Sumlin has recruited well, and the Aggies are loaded. Can this very talented roster get after it from day one and execute the way you have to do in the SEC? *TAMU vs. SC, Thursday. *See Part 1 to see how wrong my prediction was. #smh
5. Miss State- Is Miss St. ready to be something other than Miss. St.? Coach Dan Mullen has 18 starters returning from a bowl eligible season, and some have the “other Bulldogs” poised to possibly get to 9 or…lord help us…10 wins. QB Dak Prescott is getting Heisman pub, and the defense is always a physical presence. If State can win their home games, they could sneak up on a couple teams on the road. But still…they’ve never “been there before”, and if they get in a tight game with much on the line, can they come through? *Miss St vs. Southern Miss. Bulldogs walk the dog…45-17.
6. Ole Miss- Is Ole Miss ready to be something other than Ole Miss? There’s a lot of hype around this team coming into the 2014 season. Some of it deserved. Coach Freeze has recruited incredibly well, and has an established QB, the most important position, with great skill guys. The problem is that Ole Miss never can really get over the hump, as it were. It is incredibly difficult to transcend history and culture, and Ole Miss just isn’t a yearly contender. Can they change the arch of the program at Mississippi? I have doubts, but maybe…*Ole Miss vs. Boise St. Ole Miss won a sloppy game, 35-13.
7. Arkansas- Is the running game good enough to get an SEC win? Arkansas has one of the best stable of backs in the country. Stop laughing…it’s true. They’ll rotate 3 RBs all season…keeping them fresh for the year, and all three will play on Sundays one day. The Problem? The rest of the team stinks. And frankly…Coach Brett Bielema just isn’t a good coach for an SEC team. Winning 9 games a season doing nothing but running the ball will work elsewhere, but not against the D lines of SEC teams. *Arkansas vs. Auburn, Saturday. Arkansas loses big. See # 2.
W. Michael Lawson is an alumnus of Lee University and University of Richmond. Mr. Lawson currently hosts a weekly radio show “The Strong Sauce Hour” and Co-hosts a daily sports show “The Sports Drive” on 101.3 FM/1570 AM. You can follow him on twitter @thestrongsauce.